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Hear me screaming, North Carolina. Fear of violence has no place in our schools, at our colleges and universities.

Today we are all 49ers.

Horror happens when we wake up and find our lives changed forever.

My earliest memories are of UNCC. My Dad was the Dean of Students. We lived in the dorms — at least for a spell — and I remember riding my tricycle up and down the hallways. When I was a bit older, my brother and I loved teacher workdays because it meant we could roam the campus while Dad was at work — from the candy store that at that time welcomed people to the Cone Center to the music listening lounge with the coolest chairs to the game room where my love of pinball took hold. The party to celebrate my seventh birthday — a Snow White party — was held lakeside just in front of the Rowe building. I loved it when Dad would dress up as Santa and make his way through the dining hall. I still have the pewter Santa ornaments the Student Government Association gave him. I remember him using the woodworking shop to make my first dollhouse.

Basketball took my young love of UNCC and the 49ers to a whole different level. I was often late to school when Dad and I would go to the airport to see the team off to an away game. Cedric Maxwell, nicknamed Cornbread. Lew Massey. Chad Kinch. One Christmas, I woke up to a basketball signed by all of the team. I still have it. They had a little green warm up suit made for me that said on the back, “L’il 49er.” In one of the most amazing moments of parental grace, my Dad gave me his ticket to the 1977 Final Four. UNCC lost to Marquette, but Cornbread scored the most points so I decided to count it as win. Bobby Ball let me sit beside him on the back of his convertible during the homecoming parade that welcomed the team back to Charlotte.

Coach Lee Rose and Dean Colvard were like grandparents to us.

In 2013, the university honored my parents with the Distinguished Service Award. Chancellor Phil Dubois and his wife Lisa were among the first to stop by the house when my Dad died in 2017.

And then, yesterday, on April 30, 2019 at 5:50pm, I received this Niner alert:

And my perception of this place I feel so safe and so loved changed. It changed for everyone of us who thinks of ourselves as a 49er.

Hear me screaming, North Carolina.  

Horror happened last fall at Butler High School.

It happened yesterday at UNCC.

Chancellor Dubois writes, “This is the saddest day in UNC Charlotte’s history. Earlier this evening, the unthinkable happened on our campus. At approximately 5:40 PM, an individual opened fire in a UNC Charlotte classroom, cutting short the lives of two members of our community and seriously injuring four others.”

How many times will we allow it to happen to our students at our schools and colleges across our state?

What is our story, North Carolina? What is our story on the issue of gun violence in our schools, on the safety of our students? What is our greater?

Today we pray. For the lives lost. For the wounded. For the students who will have to screw up the courage to go back on campus. For the Chancellor and the leaders of UNCC who have feared yesterday and this day — the day after — and now will be haunted by these days forever. We pray for a path towards pluralism with unity and tolerance and away from division and hate. 

Tomorrow we continue to try and build a better world. A world where our students do not fear going to class.

Last December when I was visiting a middle school in Battleboro with community and state leaders, as the principal greeted us and welcomed us to his school, the first thing he noted was that no drills were planned for the day and any alarms would be real. Is that really how we want the school day to start for our students, for our teachers, for our school leaders?

This will not do, y’all. 

The safety and security I felt and enjoyed at UNCC growing up fueled my love of learning and learning environments, my sense of connectedness to place and community. 

This is personal for me. But as Nancy Rose on our team notes, “It should be personal for everyone. I am reminded of my own memories of visiting my grandparents on the campus of Lenoir Rhyne. My grandfather was dean of students, and they lived in a house on campus. When we visited, we roamed the campus, roller skated on the sidewalks, played with students. The cafeteria workers would bring us yeast rolls — so we skated near there a lot. Being on campus always felt safe.”

But now there is a whole generation of students growing up who have never felt safe in our learning environments. Even our young EdNC team members grew up with lockdowns and code 400s framing their experience of school. Twenty years after Columbine, our inability to tackle this complex public policy problem lies in part with the reality that policymakers for the most part have my experience and Nancy’s experience, the experience of feeling like our classrooms and our schools are safe places. 

Please help us figure out what we are going to do to end gun violence at our schools, our colleges, our universities. Help us figure out how to make them the safe spaces they should and need to be, the safe spaces students deserve. We are ready to empower and include students in this process going forward. Next week, expect us to launch “The Student’s Session” inviting every student in North Carolina to weigh in on the issues of gun violence and school safety. 

EducationNC is a statewide newspaper. We “live” everywhere. Every school, every community college, every university is “ours.” What happens at each of them is “personal” to all of us. UNCC, you are not alone, we are with you.

Mebane Rash

Mebane Rash is the CEO and editor-in-chief of EducationNC.